PREP VOICES : Toughing It Out : Everyone Has His Own Idea of What's the Hardest Job in Sports. Sometimes, the Job Belongs to Someone Who's Not Even a Player.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About two decades ago, a magazine offered its opinion on the toughest job in sports. Its choice: that fighting 15 rounds in a title fight provided the ultimate challenge.

Of course, that was back when fights went 15 rounds.

Others were considered, such as a goalie facing a barrage of shots from the Espositos or the Hulls. This was pre-Gretzky, before the job presumably got even tougher.

Of course, who you are determines what you find challenging.

Joe Frazier didn't hesitate stepping into the ring with Muhammad Ali, but he nearly drowned trying to swim on The Superstars competition, a made-for-TV assemblage of sportsmen out of position. Athletes were asked to compete in seven of 10 events outside their area of expertise. Thus, Frazier swam--or sank, depending on how you remember that moment. He was Smokin' Joe, not Freestyle Strokin' Joe.

The tough assignments in sports aren't just limited to the playing field. Consider the prospect of riding a Brahma bull. Intentionally.

"We'll get one of the tamer ones out here," the media relations representative once told a reporter, "and all you have to do is sign a waiver."

Ah, the waiver.

It took about two seconds for reality to take hold. Professional cowboys get hurt riding bulls--if it was easy, they would have to ride longer than eight seconds.

Riding bulls is the exact opposite of running marathons, which require you to travel more than 26 miles. "Excuse me honey, I have to run to Oceanside."

Somewhere in the middle is water polo, trying to stay afloat while an opponent discreetly tries to drown you. Actually functioning under such circumstances--pass the ball, catch the ball, shoot the ball, defend the ball--looks impossible. Watch those athletes--or try to do it yourself--and you, too, will know what it's like to be in the grasp of the Grim Reaper.

Water polo players are the best athletes out there.

Wrestling is similarly difficult, a six-minute isometric exercise often resulting in floor burns. But in water polo and wrestling, it's not the competition so much as the training that is paralyzing.

Of course, those athletes probably don't think it's that tough. They are, after all, in shape.

But even for those who are allergic to pain, even water polo practice is more appealing than the toughest job in sports.

It is one in which you stand alone, with nowhere to hide and no one to blame. To fail is to be the subject of immediate scorn, ridicule and conversation. The players will joke about it among themselves. The fans will talk about it. And if there's a video recorder--and there always is--it might show up on the nightly news. Or "America's Funniest Home Videos."

Who among us wouldn't gladly take a pass over the middle, try to sink two free throws to send the game into overtime or squeeze a little more effort out of an already wasted body than to step before the crowd with all the pressure of the world upon us and hear the scariest words in sports:

"Ladies and gentlemen, now singing the national anthem . . .

In this installment of Prep Voices, The Times Orange County asks:

"What is the toughest job in sports?"

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I think the toughest thing in sports has to be an official. There is no way that you can ever please everyone. Like in basketball, there will always be one side on the gym yelling at you, if it's not going their way.

Kevin Falconer, Calvary Chapel sophomore

Easily it has to be being an official. Because when the game is on the line they might have to make a crucial call. That's a tough position to be in; they could decide the game and that's a lot of pressure.

Kevin Feterik, Los Alamitos junior

I think the toughest thing would have to be being a coach of a football team. They have to deal with a lot of politics, like who to play, dealing with the community, parents and the boosters. You also have to know and deal with many individuals and their problems. Andthen there is the pressure of winning.

Dahrin Footman, Esperanza senior

I think just keeping sports in perspective is the hardest thing for people to do. For an athlete, you have to keep in perspective that you are only a player, and you still have to get good grades and go to class.

I think for a coach, it's tough to to keep in perspective that you are there to teach. Coaches are too worried about winning and winning isn't necessary. It's becoming a business and it doesn't need to be a business.

Patrick Shinnefield, Mater Dei senior

The hardest thing for me is having two coaches pulling at you at all times.

With me playing club (volleyball) and track, they both take place at the same time of year. It's hard to keep a schedule. They don't conflict too much but doing a track workout, whether it be a jump workout or a running workout, then going to volleyball practice for three hours . . . it gets to be tough with no time between the two and both coaches pulling at you in two different directions at once.

Kristy Kierulff, Esperanza senior

It's hard to be a young athlete and be in three sports. You have to deal with three different coaches pulling at you at all times. And if you're talented, it makes it that much tougher because then the coaches want you even more.

Joe Reza, Los Amigos track coach

From a student standpoint, keeping your grades and SAT scores up has to be one of the toughest things. If you want to excel in both, it's hard, like at private school you have to keep your grades up and usually you're involved in more than one thing on campus. To be good you have to hit the books and still be a gym rat.

Eric Thorson, Athletic Director, Orangewood Academy

The toughest job in sports must involve risk and must be challenging. It must entail a number of skills and provide the opportunity for embarrassment. Would you believe--coaching? Not just rolling the ball on the court for some lame team, but guiding a program where expectations are high and so is the pressure. Gary McKnight at Mater Dei (boys' basketball), Jeff Sink at Brea Olinda (girls' basketball), Eric Bangs at Woodbridge (girls' basketball), Bobby Bruch at Marina (girls' soccer), John Azevedo at Calvary Chapel (wrestling). All these coaches are carrying monsters on their backs. Anything less than a Southern Section title would be considered failure. For some, anything less than a State title is failure.

That's why John Hattrup, who took over Brea's girls' basketball program last year and guided it to an undefeated season--something everyone expected him to do with such talent--must rate so high on the performance meter.

Not only must coaches deal with athletes--that's the easy part of the job--but also boosters, parents, administrators and media. All of them--the athletes, boosters, parents and media--have their own egos and interests at stake. And these coaches must be above reproach all the while because they are teachers and role models foremost and coaches second.

And ultimately, they must not take themselves too seriously because they are, after all, only high school coaches.

Tough job.

Mark Anderson, Costa Mesa

It's very hard to be a team player when everyone on the team is thinking about himself. My teammate and friend, basketball player Viet Nguyen, who was shot and killed Saturday night, was a team player and I will miss him very much.

It can also be tough to be a student-athlete and choose a college. Sending applications out is time-consuming, especially when you have other schoolwork to do. All the pressures that your coach and parents put on you to get into the college they would like or you would like is big.

Also going over high hurdles in high school is very hard--that's what I do.

Jeremy Womack, Ocean View senior

The toughest job is the dummy offense in football practice where the coaches get to practice how hard their defenses can hit on these poor kids, who probably won't even play a down in the whole season.

Tony Motta, Huntington Beach

I play volleyball and many people believe it is an easy sport, but in reality it is very difficult. There isn't any sport like it.

The passer can't catch the ball, she has to let it bounce off her arms while directing it to a certain area. The setter must direct the ball to a hitter using only her wrists. And then the hitter must hit a falling object over the net into the court while jumping. Volleyball is all precision timing.

Volleyball is also dealing with parent, coach and college pressure. (It's hard) to function with recruiters all over the place and (trying to) stand out to them. It's being able to take criticism and get on with the playing. I believe this is true in all sports.

Jennifer Carey, Eighth-grader, Capistrano Valley Christian

I think the hardest job today would be coaching. A lot of kids have disrespect toward teachers and coaches. The coaches have to know every player's needs. They don't just have one person to look after but a whole team. My example of a good coach would be Bert Esposito. During the football season, one of the players made a mistake. Southern California Christian was losing and Coach Esposito yelled at the player. After he stopped yelling, he started encouraging the player. I think he's a good coach because even if he gets upset, he encourages and disciplines at the same time. Coaching is definitely the hardest job.

Jennifer Britton, SCC freshman

A jockey. Though small in stature and weight, a jockey is considered--pound for pound--one of the strongest athletes in the world.

They have to be tough, cool, calm and collected . . . maintain a clock in their head to judge speed, gentle hands to guide high-spirited thoroughbreds to the winner's circle, follow instructions from trainers and owners to the letter, ride in all types of weather conditions and never take their jobs for granted as accidents and even death can oc-cur at any time.

Eileen Gilmore, Yorba Linda

When I started coaching in 1971, I was just coaching water polo. Then we needed a booster club because the school would only purchase caps and balls. If we wanted a scoreboard, it would have to come from the booster club. When the booster club could not fulfill the costs, bingo became a big deal. Then the fact that parents were working bingo, they felt they should have some say in the amount of playing time their kids got.

Now, it's a giant web of conflict and coaches have to wear about six different hats. I've never had as many parent conferences as I've had in the last four years. At least with water polo, the parents don't understand the game because, strategy-wise, I've had no problems with my coaching, it's just the playing time the parents complain about.

Don Stoll, El Toro water polo coach

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